Apologist Bullshit From the Director of the National Institutes of Health

So, I decided to watch the film “Religulous“, starring Bill Maher. A good portion of the statements of the faithheads are cringe-worthy. The statements I’m focusing on here are those of Francis Collins, accomodationist ordinaire, who has been cited by many Christian apologists, especially those who pretend they aren’t Christian apologists and don’t take http://xkcd.com/774/ to be satirical, but take it as a serious guide to behavior.
Maher: Now here’s what’s so puzzling; is that you are the one scientist, the one famous scientist, anyway, who’s also religious. Explain that to me.
Collins: I would argue that if you look at the evidence, the historical evidence of Christ’s existence is overwhelming.
Maher: What evidence? I mean, I’ve never even heard anyone propose that there’s evidence…
Collins: When I read the New Testament, it reads to me as the record of eyewitnesses who put down what they saw…
Maher: -You, you, you know they weren’t eyewitnesses.
Collins: They were close to that. They were…
Maher: -No.
Collins: Within a couple of decades of eyewitnesses.
Maher: Okay. Would that stand up in a laboratory as, as, absolute, foolproof evidence that something happened?
Collins: You are setting up a standard for proof that I think would really be an almost impossible standard to meet…

As this is the only glimpse of Collins the director offers us (except for a bit of discussion about Mark&John not including the Virgin Birth in their narratives), it is difficult to make too much of this brief glimpse. However, we could also look at the brief pages 222225 of Collins’s volume of Christian apologetics, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

In fact, here’s a screenshot of the most relevant page for purposes of commentary and criticism:
-Let us start with the interview. Collins states that “the historical evidence of Christ’s existence is overwhelming”. In fact, there is no independent evidence of Jesus’s existence outside the New Testament and a few Church Fathers. All the records of Jesus Christ 1st-2nd century C.E. non-Christian Roman historians record must necessarily have derived from the accounts of Christians-was anyone seriously going to check the penal records of a pile of ash, rocks, and grass? Apparently, Collins does not understand that sources yesterday worked like sources today. Also, all of Paul’s statements about Jesus are fully compatible with an understanding of Jesus as a channeled figure. The authentic Pauline epistles do not indicate Jesus had much of a life before his earthly death. I wonder what kind of eyewitness records have Matthew 4:1-11/Luke 4:1-13 in them. What kind of eyewitness records have Mark 16:8 in them (or, for that matter, the rest of Mark 16, not counting forged endings)? What kind of eyewitness records have suspiciously exact prophecies (Mark 13:14Luke 21:20, the “abomination of desolation” being the Roman army or Roman aquila) with phrases like “let him that reads understand”? Bill Maher is 100% correct that the Gospels are not eyewitness records -they are pious fictions. Maher’s standard for proof is also perfectly reasonable –extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Collins’s starting assumption that writings describing extraordinary events but not explicitly describing the occupations of their authors (thus being essentially anonymous) should be exempted from being suspected fictions or forgeries unless proven otherwise (see the statement in the parentheses in the screenshot) is ridiculous. The “one scholar” is Christian apologist F.F. Bruce. In short, as described here, Francis Collins suspends his critical faculties while reading the Gospels, as does George Grena and the vast majority of Christians.

I also add that fourth century manuscripts aren’t exactly “very early”.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

4 thoughts on “Apologist Bullshit From the Director of the National Institutes of Health”

  1. As a person of faith, I believe you are on point. The fuzzy thinking exhibited by Dr. Collins is disappointing. While I’m uncomfortable with the acerbic criticisms directed at persons of faith like Collins, who disappoints me by his lack of clarity, I do believe the criticism is reasonable and to-be-expected. It saddens me that an intelligent person like Collins has invested insufficient thought to clarifying what he can (and cannot) reasonably say about the basis of his faith-ideas and then lacks the awareness of his limitations and places himself in the line of fire with Maher. Foggy thinking about cherished matters is a plague.

    1. Agreed, but what, in your opinion, should Collins have done after Maher’s first question to him in the “Religulous” interview?

  2. First of all, Maher was not interested in an exchange of information; he was only creating an opportunity to make Collins look inept on the chosen topic. Collins should have admitted he was unprepared to enter into an adversarial situation where his scientific training is not foundational for the interview. Second, he should have stated as simply as possible that faith communities formed in ancient times around memories of Jesus. Although the memories were shaped and re-shaped, there is something embedded in those memories that invokes a faith response towards God, at least for himself and many others. Third, he should have acknowledged “truth” is not the body of historical details he believes he has mastered; the accuracy and relevance of specific details of history is always subject to re-evaluation and debate. I believe he should be comfortable saying that he assents to a proclamation of events and persons and illumination all remembered within a community and revealing God. This is not very authoritative-sounding, but why does he need to sound authoritative on this topic … is it because he has an authoritative voice among scientists?

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